Funding for Missing Persons Programs on Fast Track

A bill that would provide states $6 million over three years to update their files on unidentified persons overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on Monday.

If signed into law, the bill, known as Jennifer's Law, would help law enforcement cross-reference unidentified victims with files of missing persons within the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

"This bill will give families the knowledge and sense of closure that their child or family [member] is no longer among the missingand it will help law enforcement close cases," said Todd Mitchell, manager of government affairs with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Jennifer's Law is named after Jennifer Wilmer, a Long Island woman who disappeared in California in 1993. The bill (H.R. 1915) was introduced two weeks ago by Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) and was passed by the House Monday by a vote of 370-4.

Currently, there is no mechanism for nationally cross-checking missing persons files with unidentified persons files, largely because data on unidentified persons are not entered into the NCIC. The problem, Mitchell said, is that local law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to enter the unidentified persons data into the system.

"Because it is not a requirement and because they are so stretched for dollars, they do what is economically feasible," Mitchell said. "We're happy that Congress has identified the resources to make it happen and to make [law enforcement] aware that NCIC can help them. If they use the database, there is a likelihood they will come up with a match."

The chance of the bill becoming law is excellent, said Mitchell, whose agency is working with Lazio and the Wilmer family on identifying a Senate sponsor for the bill.

"We hope it will reach the president this year," Mitchell said.

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